Going ‘Underground’ with composer Christian Overhead

One of the pieces that will be on my new solo CD, and which I recorded during the first recording session with Brass Band Schoonhoven, is a brand new composition by British composer Christian Overhead, named ‘Underground Concerto’. It’s time to find out more about this exciting new euphonium concerto and about the composer who’s also a cornet player with Brass Band Schoonhoven since 2013.

Christian, first tell us something about yourself!

Well, I was born into a brass banding family, so naturally I began playing at an early age. After a couple of years in the local training band (Thrapston Town), I joined my parents at Rushden Windmill where I played in my first contest before following my father to Raunds Temperance. My first contest with them was at the 4th section finals, which that year was held at the Royal Albert Hall. From there the band rose to the championship section, and with it I moved from 3rd cornet to principal.


In my mid-teens I began borrowing scores from the band library, and studying them. Before long I broadened my horizons and started buying orchestral scores for the same purpose. The spark that inspired me to try to create my own music came when I discovered Stravinsky’s ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ (The Rite of Spring)… a piece that I’ve been fascinated with ever since, and often quote in my own work (including ‘Underground’!). My first ever piece, ‘Fanfare & Theme’, was written for Raunds and performed at a couple of entertainment contests.

Can you give us some highlights of your composing career so far?

I began becoming successful in composition competitions fairly early, my first being a finalist in the 2010 Ohio Brass Arts Festival with ‘Iguazu’. This was followed the next year by ‘Echo & Narcissus’ in the John Golland Award, and ‘Amid a Kaleidoscopic Mist’ which was performed by the New Trombone Collective during the Slide Factory Composition Competition in Rotterdam. The latter won the jury prize and, in part, was the reason I decided to move to The Netherlands. In 2015, my ‘Symmetricoil’ received the 2nd prize at the European Composer Competition in Freiburg, and just last week I was awarded 3rd for ‘Les Sorcieres du Valais’ during the 50th anniversary concert of Ensemble de Cuivre Valaisan.

My biggest highlight so far, however, was having two of my pieces performed by Brass Band Schoonhoven at last year’s Brass in Concert. Having been a member of the band for a few years now, it was great to be able to contribute to the programme in more than just a playing capacity. Prizes are good and all, but for a composer the greatest reward is to see a band put so much effort into something you’ve written, and the response of the audience after the performance was a fantastic experience.


Christian discussing his new concerto with conductor Ivan Meylemans

How did you come up with the idea to write a euphonium concerto, and especially the ‘Underground Concerto’?

The idea of writing a concerto began shortly after I moved to The Netherlands. After joining Schoonhoven, my eyes were really opened to what players at this level can do. One person in particular stood out, a ridiculously talented euphonium player! So we discussed the possibility of working together and went from there. With the announcement of this CD project, we both decided it would be a fantastic platform for the piece and I began serious work on it last year.

My idea for one of the movements came before any talk of a concerto. A few years ago, I read Emile Zola’s ‘Germinal’, and thought certain aspects of it would make a good basis for a piece. Specifically, his descriptions of the mine… a central ‘character’ of the novel. However, I didn’t really get around to expanding on the idea until the opportunity of the concerto came about. From there I developed this ‘underground’ idea and came up with plans for the other movements.

So give us some information about the piece itself. What is the piece all about?

Underground Concerto consists of three movements which I will describe one by one. They are all very contrasting from each other, but use the same thematic material.

Movement I, ‘Le Voreux’ – As mentioned above, this is based on ‘Germinal’. ‘Le Voreux’ is the name given to the mine in the novel, and described in amazing detail… almost having its own speaking role with its creaks and groans. It’s these sounds that you will hear at the opening of the piece as the miners descend into the depths to carry out their work.

Movement II, ‘Orpheus’ – A depiction of the Greek myth in which the title character must visit the Underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice. The hearts of Hades and Persephone are softened by Orpheus’ mournful songs and they agree to let Eurydice return with him, on the condition that he walks in front of her and doesn’t look back until they reach the Upper World. Not being able to control himself, he breaks this condition and she disappears forever.

Movement III, ‘Euphoria’ – Now that the listener is well and truly ‘underground’, there’s only one way to go… up! This movement provides a stark contrast to those preceding, partly based on music heard in the underground scene. An incessant beat and chromatic runs drive us to scramble upward back into the light, before an extended double ‘cadenza’ (with drum kit) propels us into a state of euphoria. Thus ending the piece on a high.

To end up with this interview,is there anything you’d like to add?

The euphonium repertoire is growing fast, with many talented composers contributing to it. I hope with this piece I have contributed something a little different, and something which maybe appeals to people who are not overly familiar with the medium. It has been an amazing experience working together with Robbert and Brass Band Schoonhoven on this project. Not only is he one of the finest musicians in the brass band world, but also easy to work with and an all round great guy. The piece is set for a premiere at WASBE in Utrecht, this July so I’m really looking forward to this event!

For more information about Christian Overhead, have a look at his Facebook page!

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